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unique case Molly Martens’ lawyer says she may take stand in Jason Corbett murder retrial

On Thursday afternoon, a day after Molly had been released, Walter Holton, the lawyer who represented her during her 2017 trial for murder, was cautiously pondering his next move.

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Molly Martens Corbett walks out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021, in Lexington, N.C.

Molly Martens Corbett walks out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021, in Lexington, N.C.

Molly Martens Corbett is embraced after walking out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Molly Martens Corbett is embraced after walking out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday.

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Molly Martens Corbett walks out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021, in Lexington, N.C.

Of all the murder cases he dealt with during a career that spanned almost 50 years, there is one in particular that stands out in the mind of retired Davidson County Sheriff David Grice.

We deal with a lot of these cases where the crime scene is particularly brutal,” Mr Grice told the Irish Independent this week.

“What sticks out about this one for me is this guy (Tom Martens) was supposed to be a professional law enforcement officer. Yet he couldn’t find any other alternatives but to beat that man (Jason Corbett) to death with a baseball bat once his daughter (Molly) hit him. I’ve had to hit a lot of people. When you hit them and they are down, you put the handcuffs on. In this case, once they had that man down they should have left the house.”

It’s been almost six years since Mr Grice and his team of officers opened a murder inquiry into the death of Limerick man Jason Corbett.

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Molly Martens Corbett is embraced after walking out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Molly Martens Corbett is embraced after walking out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Molly Martens Corbett is embraced after walking out of the Davidson County Courthouse on Wednesday.


In the days after the killing, when only his wife Molly had been named in the media as a “person of interest in the case”, it was Mr Grice who revealed that her father, Tom, was also in the frame for the killing.

“It was a big story for the Irish press back then,” he said.

“When it became clear that there were other people in the house that night (aside from Jason and Molly) and that Tom was an FBI officer, that added to the interest.”

A year-long investigation followed, resulting in grand jury indictments for second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. The later charge was dropped and a trial for second degree murder got under way in August 2017.

The result, two guilty verdicts, was overturned earlier this year, to the surprise of many, not least Mr Grice.

“I wasn’t shocked to see Tom and Molly out on bail this week,” he said.

“The big shock for me was the supreme court ruling. I one hundred present believe those two should still be in prison. A retrial will give the same verdict. There will be a lot of money spent by the state to do that.”

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On Thursday afternoon, a day after Molly had been released, Walter Holton, the lawyer who represented her during her 2017 trial for murder, was cautiously pondering his next move.

Another lawyer, Doug Kingsberry, handled her appeal and this week’s bond hearing, but Mr Holton insists he is still involved in her defence.

“I’ve been involved right through the hearing on Thursday,” he said.

“Going forward, once Molly and her family are reacquainted and have had some time to rest, I will decide what next steps in particular that I may take.”

According to Mr Holton, due to the publicity that has surrounded the case and the local knowledge of much of the evidence that was presented during the original trial, it is likely that the defence will move to have it heard in a separate county.

“There will be difficulties there (with previous publicity) and that’s why the trial should be moved to another county,” he said.

“For the last year there have been no jury trials in North Carolina, both criminal and civil. Those cases are now backed up and the DA in each county will have a lot to do to work through a lot of those cases. You can’t put a timeframe on when a retrial may or may not happen.”

During the original trial, amid much speculation over what she might or might not do, Molly opted not to take the stand and give evidence in her own defence. This time, after almost four years in prison, history might not necessarily repeat itself.

“All the cards are back on the table,” said Mr Holton.

“It’s one of those determinations that will be made. You can’t assume that because she didn’t take the stand last time that she wouldn’t take it this time. You can’t really assume anything about this retrial other than what the supreme court has said with respect to particular pieces of evidence.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruling, issued last month, upheld a decision by a lower court to grant a retrial in the case. The supreme court found that the trial court blocked numerous pieces of evidence that would have bolstered the argument of self-defence. The judge’s errors during the murder trial were “so prejudicial as to inhibit the defendants’ ability to present a full and meaningful defence” and cut to the “central question” of the case, the seven-judge supreme court said.

In her 55-page opinion for the court, Justice Anita Earls detailed key evidence jurors never heard. Much of it stems from the Corbett children’s interview with social workers following their father’s death, statements excluded by the Davidson County trial court.

The children recanted those statements once they returned to Ireland and the Corbett family say both children are willing to testify that they were coerced into making them.

David Freedman, the lawyer representing Tom Martens, had pushed for the original statements to be shown to the jury four years ago. He now says he will cross-examine the Corbett children on the content when the case is retried.

“The jury will now hear those statements,” he said.

“These are the ones that were taken under the guidance of doctors, social workers and law enforcement in the days after Mr Corbett’s death. I’m open to cross-examining the children and showing the jury that when they made statements right at the time they were truthful.”

Mr Freedman denied allegations that the children were coached or coerced into making them. The retrial, he argues, will be different to what has gone before the court previously.

“The jury is going to hear all the evidence that they should hear and they are not going to hear evidence that they shouldn’t have heard,” he said.

“They shouldn’t have heard the conclusion from the blood spatter expert about the stain (on Tom Marten’s shorts) because he didn’t do the proper testing. They will hear the children’s statements, they will hear what Molly had to say to Tom when they were in the room and we will see different jury instructions this time.”

In relation to the blood spatter evidence, the supreme court found that the expert who testified failed to show that the blood on the boxer shorts and pyjamas was Jason’s, rather than Molly and Tom’s. Separately, during the original trial, the judge asked the jury to disregard testimony from Thomas Martens stating that Molly said “Don’t hurt my dad” during the argument in the bedroom.

The defence say this testimony will now be heard.

Mr Freedman said it is likely that his client will take the stand again and in light of the supreme court determination, he intends to have testimony regarding Michael Fitzpatrick, the father of Mr Corbett’s first wife Mags, included as evidence.

Mr Martens claims Mr Fitzpatrick told him that he believed Jason was responsible for his daughter’s death.

During the 2017 trial, the state, in dealing with the issue, said that a coroner’s report showed Mags Corbett’s cause of death to be an asthma attack. Furthermore, prior to his death, Mr Fitzpatrick visited a lawyer in Ireland to make a statement that Mr Martens’ claims were untrue. The judge in the original trial rejected applications to have Mr Martens’ testimony regarding Mr Fitzpatrick put to a jury. Both the Corbett and Fitzpatrick families have spoken of their hurt over the claims, which they say are entirely untrue.

As the defence prepares its case for a retrial, once again it seems, the gloves are off.

“I believe this evidence will come in this time,” said Mr Freedman. “I never a predict what a jury is going to do but I feel very good about this and I believe Molly and Tom will receive a fair trial.”

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